The goal of physical therapy is regaining, maintaining or improving functional ability. As with humans, physical therapy for dogs can achieve remarkable results, speeding the animal's recovery from trauma or surgery and helping with mobility, pain, and even weight loss. Many people want to give their canine family members the same quality of healthcare and maintenance they receive, so the relatively new field of dog physical therapy is growing rapidly. As of 2012, no universities offer a degree specifically in animal physical therapy. There are other ways to enter the field, however.
Decide on the background you wish to have. A dog physical therapist will need to have a background in either human physical therapy or veterinary medicine. On her blog, longtime animal physical therapist Julie Stuart recommends human physical therapy school over veterinary school. She explains that as a physical therapy student, you will learn the "science and art of physical therapy," whereas in veterinary school, you would study medicine and medical skills. While the knowledge and skills you learn in physical therapy school would focus on humans, it easily transfers to dogs.
Decide how quickly you wish to start your career. A degree in either veterinary medicine or physical therapy requires several years of undergraduate and graduate work. Becoming a veterinary technician or a physical therapy assistant, however, usually requires only a two-year associate degree. However, only licensed physical therapists and veterinarians can do evaluations and prescribe treatments for the dogs, according to Stuart, while techs and assistants carry out the prescribed treatments.
Increase your knowledge, and gain experience in the field. Enroll in a continuing education program in animal rehabilitation and physical therapy. Add to what you've already learned by studying books on canine anatomy, biomechanics and gait. Build relationships with veterinarians, surgeons and animal behaviorists in your area, and ask if you can observe their work.
Obtain certification. While not always necessary for employment, certification indicates to your boss and clients a significant level of professionalism and training. The University of Tennessee and the Canine Rehabilitation Institute have highly respected certification programs.
Find employment. Mine the relationships you built with veterinarians, surgeons and behaviorists in your area and ask about possible openings in the vicinity. Also visit the University of Tennessee's University Outreach and Continuing Education website. The site maintains a page specifically for employment opportunities in the field.
- Physical Therapy for Animals: How Do You Become an Animal Physical Therapist?
- Physical Therapy for Animals: School for Animal Physical Therapy?
- UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine: Physical Therapy in Canine Rehabilitation
- MSNBC.com: Physical Rehab Helps Keep Pets Moving
- Canine Rehabilitation Institute: Frequently Asked Questions